This informal paper asserts that the use of violence in language is generally misguided, possibly harmful, and generally not in the best interests of a free and open society. It cheapens discourse. Reason, being reasonable, and remaining calm, are much more acceptable, advisable, and admirable — and productive — than resorting to violence even if only in the form of language, and that violence in language is not a virtue. And this includes both written and spoken language, or any other form of expression for that matter.
And this includes force as well. Force and violence are close cousins. Force alone may not cause the kind of harm and destruction normally associated with outright violence, but the point is that whether violence or merely force is used, the intent is to unfairly and unreasonably deprive another of liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness. Coercion, intimidation, and threats are unreasonable even if no blood is shed or bones broken, or property stolen, damaged, or destroyed.
It has become common for language to be used as a form of force to compel or incite action or an involuntary response.
It is not uncommon to see language used in a very forceful manner, as if it actually were a form of violence.
The thesis motivating this paper is that language is best used to communicate ideas and to persuade, with persuasion focused on positive arguments based on reason and appeals to positive emotions, and that resorting to the language of violence lowers the level of discourse and cheapens it, demeaning the value of facts, merit, and reason.
Communicate and persuade vs. attack and incite
The proposition put forth in this paper is that language should be restricted to communication and persuasion and not be used to attack and demean others or to incite a negative or irrational response or action from others.
The main focus of this paper is on the actual language used rather than the intent per se. Incitement is generally prohibited anyway. And incitement can occur even with relatively mild language that conveys a heavy meaning even with words which individually may be quite mild. This paper suggests that even if actual harm or violence is not incited, the mere resort to violence in language is itself problematic.
Why resort to the use of violence in language?
People resort to violence in language for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Shortcut to their ends.
- A psychological need to dominate others.
- A practical need to assault and harm others, such as a political campaign or high-stakes business competition.
- Fun — some people actually enjoy it.
- Thrill of battle — some people get off on the visceral feeling they get, as if they were actually engaging in physical force or violence.
- Ego and status — some people respect people who can dominate others.
A lot of the motivation for resorting to violence in language seems to be as a shortcut to an end, compelling compliance or action, without the need for a more lengthy process based on facts, merit, and reason.
Words emphasizing violence and force
- Aggressive, aggressively
- Anger, angry
- Arms race
- Beat, beating, beat up
- Blood — Draw blood
- Blood money
- Chain, chained
- Choke, choke off
- Confront, confrontation
- Dead, death
- Draw blood
- Drive down
- Drive out
- Feel the heat
- Firing shots
- Get in their face
- Gut (verb)
- Gut punch
- Hit back
- Lash out
- Pointing a gun
- Prisoners, take no prisoners
- Pull no punches
- Punch back
- Running scared
- Shackle, shackled
- Shake up
- Shot, shoot
- Snuff out
- Stand over
- Sudden death
- Take a shot
- Throe, throes
- Throw a bomb, throwing a bomb
- Throwing someone under the bus
- Ticking time bomb
- Uprising, rise up
- When push comes to shove
There is also the related general issue of cursing, cussing, profanity, and otherwise coarse language, which has much the same effect, to appeal to an emotional response rather than rely on facts, merit, and reason..
Violent or forceful intent of language
- Sexual violence or violation
- Mean, mean-spirited
- Hostile, hostility
There is also explicit language vs. implied intent.
Tone of voice
There is also the issue of tone of voice. Tone can make the language of force and violence even more compelling.
Even if the explicit words do not convey a sense of force or violence, the tone used to express those words may indeed convey a sense of force or violence, the latter being as inappropriate as explicitly violent or forceful language.
Posture and gestures
Posture can also send a message of force and violence the same as tone, such as:
- Hands balled up into fists.
- A sharp, stabbing motion with a pointed finger.
- Invading the personal space of the other party.
Although not explicitly violent or forceful, inflammatory language can be just as harmful, such as referring to someone or a group as:
- Mentally ill
- Disparagement in general
Beyond general disparagement, hate language is inflammatory language directed at individuals or groups based on religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, language, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, appearance.
Provocation and incitement
Violent and forceful language can be harmful, but language that verges on provocation or incitement is clearly intended to goad the other side into an ill-considered response, which itself may consist of either equally forceful and violent language if not actual force and violence.
Taunting and fighting words are forms of provocation and incitement.
I would define provocation as containing or pertaining to an intent to elicit a strong, emotional response, whether in words, actions, or even merely feelings.
Fighting words are indeed incitement, but at a much more personal level. They amount to a challenge that the opponent almost literally has no choice to ignore.
Taunting may be more mild than outright fighting words, but they are still a harmful form of incitement, goading the other side into action, or even if action is not likely, to undermine the other side’s sense of self-worth.
A form of taunting, bullying is intended to significantly undermine an individual’s sense of self-worth, possibly leading to suicide.
There are plenty of words available for asserting strong feelings without the need to resort to the language of violence and intimidation, just as:
There is the issue of how to properly express feelings when they may in fact involve a level of intensity that borders on the language of violence. Generally, the energy and content of feelings should be separated, with the energy channeled in some positive manner and the content of feelings expressed in a more calm tone of voice.
Future: Automated tool to highlight use of violence in language
It would be nice to have an online automated tool to highlight passages of text in a document where violent language is used.
It would be nice to have such a tool embedded and integrated with common online text editors, such as Google Docs.
Future: Suggest alternatives to violence in language
It would be nice to have suggested alternative language for instances of the use of each violent word.
And it would be even nicer to have an automated tool which could convert violent language to more benign language.
And it would be nice to have this feature embedded and integrated with common online text editors, such as Google Docs.